Today in AgBioView: August 22, 2003:
* BioLines Headlines
* Southern Africa: Communicating About Biotechnology
* Let science, not scare tactics, push GMO laws
* EU to Modify Attitude Towards Genetically Modified Foods
* Newly found gene resistant to economically crippling wheat disease
* Genetically engineered plants produce cervical cancer vaccine components
* Hardline ideologues in charity clothes
The following headlines are from the latest issue of BioLines. To read the
full articles, go to
The status of biosafety in Africa (1)
Vatican says GM food is a blessing (2)
Biotech "True Stories from the Frontier" (4)
Let Africa grow 'Golden' rice (5)
New EU food body sees no reason for Austria GMO ban (6)
Scientists find gene that protects against potato blight (7)
Revving up the Green Express (8)
GM cottonwood reduces mercury in soils (9)
US reacts to EU GMO rules (9 )
Muslim council says yes to GM foods (10)
Biotech cuts food prices (10)
GE food safe as rest of menu (11)
EU sets rules for embryo use in stem cell research (11)
Is GM food a poison? (12)
GM cotton crops halve pesticide use (14)
Southern Africa: Communicating About Biotechnology
Media Institute of Southern Africa
* Please note that MISA and the Misanet News Exchange are often not
directly involved in training courses presented by third parties; we
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Are you involved in communicating about biotechnology, including topics
such as GM foods and cloning? Then YOU are invited to an exciting SCIENCE
AND MEDIA workshop focusing specifically on the dynamic between
biotechnology, the public and the mass media. Workshop topic:
Biotechnology and the Myth of Objectivity in Science Reporting
Presenter: Susanna Hornig Priest, Journalism Professor at Texas A&M
University, United States
Questions to be addressed: Why do people in different countries and
cultures react so differently to biotechnology? What is "good" and "bad"
in terms of media reporting on biotechnology? Is "balanced" reporting on
The workshop is aimed at journalists, editors, scientists, science
communicators, and public relations officers who are active and interested
in the field of biotechnology. There will be opportunity for questions and
There is NO FEE for attending this workshop.
Priest's latest book is "A grain of truth: The Media, Public and
Biotechnology", featuring chapters on press and public reaction to issues
such as new genetics, the labeling controversy, cloning, terminator genes
and many more.
The workshop will be presented in CAPE TOWN, and will be repeated in
IN CAPE TOWN Date: Monday 15 September 2003 Time: 14:00 - 16:00
(Registration at 13:30; refreshments will be served) Venue: Naspers Centre
(18th Floor), Cape Town
IN PRETORIA Date: Wednesday 17 September 2003 Time: 09:30 - 12:30
(Registration starts at 08:30; light finger lunch at 13:00) Venue: SAASTA
Auditorium, 211 Skinner Street, Pretoria
RSVP Tebogo Gule at email@example.com by Wednesday 10 September, and
please indicate whether you will be attending the Cape Town or Pretoria
The workshop is presented jointly by the Journalism Department of the
University of Stellenbosch, and the Public Understanding of Biotechnology
Programme (PUB). PUB is a three-year programme funded by the Department of
Science and Technology and implemented by the South African Agency for
Science and Technology Advancement (www.saasta.ac.za).
Professor Priest's visit to South Africa is funded jointly with the
American Embassy in Pretoria.
More information about the Public Understanding of Biotechnology Programme
at www.pub.ac.za Enquiries: Tebogo Gule (012) 392-9374
Let science, not scare tactics, push GMO laws
Grand Forks Herald
Aug. 15, 2003
FARGO - Genetically modified crops are a reality. They have become - and
will continue to become - crucial to the development of agriculture, not
only in the United States, but worldwide. That's irrefutable. As North
Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture Roger Johnson said: "That genie is out
of the bottle." And it should be. Responsibly managed and scientifically
evolved, it can be a benevolent genie.
The European Union's perspective on GMOs is different from that of the
United States in that European policy-makers are capitulating to the
emotions of a happily uninformed public rather than relying on good
Not that misinformation is unique to the European debate about genetically
modified crops. The anti-GMO sentiments are strong in the United States,
and some of the concerns should not be dismissed as hysteria. It is the
intentional hysteria around the concerns that undermines the credibility
of GMO foes.
On balance, GMO critics have resorted to words like "frankenfood" to scare
consumers. They have trotted out the bugaboo of "big corporations"
(Monsanto, in this case) as greedy destroyers of safe and wholesome food
and food production. They have resorted to innuendo and fear rather than
research and reason.
The hypocrisy is profound. The same people who want the United States and
EU to feed the starving people of the Third World have been doing all they
can to block introduction of high-yield, high-nutrition GMO crops to
Africa. The same people who decry the use of chemicals in production
agriculture don't seem concerned that EU farmers dump 10 times the
pesticides and fertilizers on their lands than American farmers - and that
the use of GMO seeds can reduce and eventually might eliminate the need
for some farm chemicals. The same Europeans who are fighting GMOs in crops
are silent about pharmaceuticals derived from GMO plants, many of which
were developed by European companies.
Genetic manipulation is not new. Agriculture has depended for generations
on selective breeding and crossbreeding of plants to improve genetic
characteristics. GMO crops are a logical evolution of genetic modification
techniques; the new technology just happens to be more targeted and more
effective. Some of the guesswork and a lot of the time in growing new crop
varieties have been eliminated.
Feeding the world (the country, for that matter) cannot be done with
free-range chickens, backyard tomatoes or an organic millet farm in North
Dakota. Not enough can be grown and the prices are too high for most of
the world's hungry people. Such products might find markets with the
affluent patrons of tiny restaurants in U.S. and western European cities,
but not among the starving masses of the Sudan.
Production agriculture is about production. Genetic modification of crops
is a tool for growing food for millions. The tool - like any effective
tool - can be misused. Thus, responsible management defined by good
science should supplant self-serving histrionics.
EU to Modify Attitude Towards Genetically Modified Foods
Voice of America
By Roger Wilkison
21 Aug 2003
Citizens of the 15-nation European Union enjoy a generally healthy
lifestyle, but obesity is on the rise, and 20 percent of the EU's
inhabitants continue to smoke. Still, the health issue that most alarms
Europeans is the prospect of eating genetically modified foods, despite
the absence of any proof that they are actually unsafe.
Since 1998, there has been a moratorium in the European Union on the sale
of new biotech foods, in response to fears about the possible health
risks. But now, in an effort to avoid a trade battle with the United
States, which maintains that those fears are unfounded, the EU is
preparing to lift the moratorium, and replace it with tougher labeling
requirements for genetically altered products.
Under the new rules, all products, including animal feed, vegetable oils,
seeds and byproducts containing more than 0.9 percent genetically altered
material will have to be clearly identified as having been produced from
genetically modified organisms.
EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom says the new measures will
give consumers an informed choice.
"This is a matter of building confidence," she said. "And we are trying to
build confidence for individual consumers and for farmers in Europe. And
we do that by ensuring that we have a regulatory framework, which looks at
both the potential benefits and risks of GM products."
The United States says the labeling requirement is unfair to producers of
GM foods, most of whom are American. But public sentiment in Europe,
successfully stoked by environmental groups, is fiercely opposed to
genetically altered food. GM products are rarely seen on grocery shelves,
and that is how most consumers want it.
In contrast to Americans, Europeans regard tinkering with the genetic
makeup of crops to make them faster growing and more resilient as
heretical. In such countries as France and Italy, revulsion at the mere
idea of eating genetically modified food runs especially deep.
A series of food scandals - such as the outbreak of mad cow disease in
Britain and its spread to other European nations, or the discovery of
dioxin-infested chickens in Belgium - have severely undermined consumers'
faith in the safety of their food, as well as their confidence in
scientists and public officials, many of whom asserted at the time that
there was no risk to public health.
EU Commissioner Wallstrom says GM manufacturers have to prove to European
consumers that their products are both healthy and safe for the
"There is no shortcut to establish this confidence in consumers and
farmers in Europe," she said. "You have to demonstrate that the kind of
products that you put on the market [are] safe for human beings and [do
not] pose a risk to, for example, the rich bio-diversity that we have in
Although there is no compelling evidence so far that genetically altered
food is harmful, anti-GM activists say it is not known whether the food is
harmful in the long term. And it is precisely that uncertainty, which
The British government recently published a report concluding that health
risks from current GM products are very low, but that some uncertainties
remain. David King, the government's chief scientific adviser, says crop
approval should be granted on a case-by-case basis.
"This generation of GM crops, we would conclude, are low-risk to human
health; therefore, safe to eat," he said. "When we look at future
generations of GM crops, we will have to see that the regulatory process
makes sure that we can retain the same degree of confidence for human
The study, chaired by Mr. King, found no verifiable ill effects to human
or animal health from more than seven years of eating GM food and feed in
North America. But opponents of GM say detailed research to prove food
safety has not been carried out.
Former British Environment Minister Michael Meacher, commenting on the
King report, says there has been too little research into how GM foods
behave inside the human body.
"They say that there is little or no risk in GM foods, but they haven't
done any of the testing, which will establish whether it is true or not,"
he said. "And until there has been comprehensive health and environmental
testing of GM crops, we should not commercialize GM crops in this
So, the bottom line is that there is no definitive proof that GM foods are
damaging to human health, but no definitive proof that they are safe. Most
scientists agree that GM foods are probably safe. But most also admit that
they cannot be absolutely sure of that.
The choice whether to eat or not to eat GM food is thus left to the
consumer. And so far, European consumers show no sign of budging from
their refusal to touch the stuff.
Newly found gene resistant to economically crippling wheat disease
August 20, 2003
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Bread wheat plants carrying a newly discovered gene
that is resistant to economically devastating leaf blotch can reduce the
amount of grain lost to the pathogen, according to Purdue University
The scientists used bread wheat species to find the gene and the markers,
or bits of DNA, that indicate presence of the naturally occurring gene.
The fungus causes wheat crop damage worldwide with yield losses of 50
percent or more in some places. In the United States the disease is
widespread in the Pacific Northwest, the northern Great Plains and the
eastern Midwest soft wheat region, and experts estimate annual losses at
Results of the Purdue study on resistance to the fungus that causes
Septoria tritici leaf blotch are published in the September issue of
Phytopathology and appear on the journal's Web site.
"The goal of our work is to find additional resistance genes to the fungus
Mycosphaerella graminicola so we can use the lines carrying these genes in
our wheat to avoid the breakdown of resistance in the plants," said
Stephen Goodwin, associate professor of botany and plant pathology and
U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS)
scientist. "Having the markers greatly speeds up the breeding process for
The markers facilitate finding plants with the pathogen resistance gene.
As soon as a seedling sprouts, a small piece of the young leaf can be
ground and then a DNA test can be run. This shows whether the markers are
"Using the markers, in a few days you can tell which plants have the
resistance gene and which don't," Goodwin said.
The researchers discovered the gene Stb8, so named because it is the
eighth gene known to provide resistance to Septoria tritici leaf blotch
(STB). However, this gene has some differences compared with the ones
found previously, Goodwin said.
Several of the previously found genes conferred resistance on bread wheat
plants for only a few years - up to about 15 years. Stb8 has genetic
characteristics that may allow it to be effective for a much longer period
of time, Goodwin said.
The genome containing Stb8 originated from a pasta wheat parent, which is
resistant to most strains of the fungus. This may extend the usefulness of
the resistance gene for bread wheat.
The specific location of Stb8 on the genome is different than all the
previously known resistance genes for wheat blotch. This site should allow
Stb8 to be combined with other genes that also offer some protection
against the disease, thereby increasing plants' resistance.
Stb8 and its markers are naturally occurring in wheat lines already in
use, so they can be used immediately for farmers' breeding programs to
gain protection against leaf blotch, Goodwin said.
The long-term goal of the research of leaf blotch resistance genes is to
learn about the molecular pathways that allow the plants to respond to
pathogens, he said.
"If we can understand these biochemical processes that lead to resistance,
then in the future we may learn how to modify them to make these genes
more durable," Goodwin said.
Though different resistance genes seem to work more effectively in
different parts of the world, the pathogen is easily spread, especially in
today's world of fast transportation. The fungus is spread and grows by
spores and it can survive in dried leaves for a very long time, Goodwin
"We even store them that way, sometimes for years," he said. "If you keep
the leaf dry, it won't decay and the pathogen just sits there. Or you can
freeze it at -80 C, thaw it, and then spray it with water - it will start
Leaf blotch doesn't kill plants, but it weakens them sufficiently to cause
significant crop loss. Purdue scientists determined resistance to the
fungus by observing whether the disease appeared on the leaves of adult
plants and by measuring the number of spores present. This particular
disease seems to affect young plants and adult plants to the same degree.
The other researchers involved in this study are Tika Adhikari, USDA-ARS
and Department of Botany and Plant Pathology postdoctoral fellow, and
Joseph Anderson, USDA-ARS scientist and Purdue Department of Agronomy
The USDA-ARS provided funding for this study.
Writer: Susan A. Steeves, (765) 496-7481, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Stephen Goodwin, (765) 494-4635, email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; firstname.lastname@example.org
Genetically engineered plants produce cervical cancer vaccine components
August 15, 2003
Researchers from Germany have genetically engineered plants to produce
particles of human papillomavirus (HPV) that could be used in the creation
of vaccines or as edible vaccines themselves. They report their findings
in the September 2003 issue of the Journal of Virology.
'Cervical cancer is linked to infection with HPV and is the third most
common cancer among women worldwide. There is a strong demand for the
development of an HPV preventive vaccine,' say the researchers.
In the study, the researchers genetically engineered tobacco and potato
plants to produce a major structural protein of HPV. When the protein was
purified and administered to mice, it induced an immune response. When the
potatoes were fed to mice, they also induced an immune response, though
not as significant.
'Here, we demonstrated as a first step that it is possible to produce
transgenic plants expressing the HPV-16 L1 protein in a form appropriate
for immunization purposes,' say the researchers.
S. Biemelt, U. Sonnewald, P. Galmbacher, L. Willmitzer, and M. Muller.
Production of human papillomavirus type 15 virus-like particles in
Journal of Virology, 77: 9211-9220
Hardline ideologues in charity clothes
By Alan Wood
August 19, 2003
IS the Howard Government running a sinister campaign to silence its
critics among charities and other non-government organisations such as
Greenpeace, Oxfam Community Aid Abroad and the WWF, many of which enjoy
It would be easy to think so after the beat-ups and cries of alarm during
the past few weeks.
It started with the Charities Bill 2003 Exposure Draft, which allegedly
showed that Peter Costello planned to strip charities of their tax-free
status if they criticised government policy. He has denied this is the
Government's intention and there is no good reason to think it is.
The second alarm sounded in response to a report that the Institute of
Public Affairs is undertaking a research study for the Government on
relations between NGOs and government. The aim is to make information
about NGOs that deal with government publicly accessible. According to the
IPA, it will propose a standard of public disclosure when dealing with
NGOs, a trial protocol that would request NGOs to supply specified
information about their organisation, a framework for assessing the role
and standing of NGOs, and a database of NGOs.
Oxfam Community Aid Abroad's executive director Andrew Hewett attacked the
use of the IPA, which he described as an extreme right-wing business lobby
group with a demonstrated hostility towards NGOs, accusing it of
vilification and a smear campaign against charities, welfare and aid
It is Hewett's language that is extreme, rather than the IPA, which could
be more reasonably described as a conservative think-tank. Historically,
it has close associations with the Liberal Party, but the study will be
run by senior research fellow Gary Johns, a former Labor minister and
It is certainly true that Johns and the IPA have been critical of the
activities of some NGOs, of which there are many thousands around the
world, with good reason. Johns has been particularly critical of the
advocacy activities of the multinational NGOs, of which Greenpeace and the
WWF are prime examples.
These, he notes, increasingly resemble the political parties and
international corporations that are their targets, with one important
difference - they are far less accountable.
What Johns and others have recog nised, is that while these groups base
their popular appeal and fundraising on claims such as saving the
environment and protecting workers in developing countries and the poor,
there is an underlying agenda which is hostile to Western, particularly
Anglo-American, liberal democracies and the political, institutional,
corporate and economic structures that underpin them.
The essence of Johns's argument was in his Senate Occasional Lecture last
August entitled Government and Civil Society: Which is Virtuous? JOHNS
sees the NGOs, charities and others as part of a new, communitarian civil
society that is challenging the legitimacy of representative governments
in liberal democracies. They are able to do so because liberal democracies
provide an unprecedented ability for citizens to voice their disquiet.
This makes the present democratic institutions appear inadequate and less
trustworthy, a position NGOs exploit. "The irony is that the critics of
liberal democracy - indigenous, feminist, gay, environmentalist,
civil-libertarian, socialist - have all had their greatest successes in
liberal democracies," Johns says. "They are not doing so well in
crony-capitalist, Islamic or communist states, even less well in tribal
polities. In fact, where they threaten to do particularly well is at a
supranational level - (the) EU and UN - where electorates have no direct
control over them.
"Having been granted many of their wishes, these movements challenge the
legitimacy of important elements of the system that sustains them - the
electorate's veto over policymakers, the distribution of the economic
surplus, the commitment to evidence as the basis for policy, and the rule
of law - hallmarks of the liberal democracies. Each of these is being
challenged, in part by prominent NGOs."
In another paper, Johns examines the extent to which NGOs are attacking
one of the pillars of free-market capitalism - the rights of shareholders
and the obligations of boards and management to protect their interests.
He exposes how doctrines such as corporate social-responsibility and
stakeholder capitalism, which sound benign, are, in fact, pernicious,
aimed at furthering an ideology fundamentally hostile to free markets.
This agenda is often driven by intimidation and corporate blackmail. BP, a
company that has led the corporate rush to earn brownie points, sorry,
greenie points, by pandering to these doctrines, is now finding that
feeding the crocodile only whets its appetite.
Against the background of the behaviour of advocacy NGOs and their
objectives, a proposal that they should be more accountable seems a very
Why shouldn't governments and citizens know if these groups are really as
representative as they claim, whether they have the expertise to justify
their participation in policymaking, whether they meet adequate standards
of governance and financial management, if they are often driven more by
fundraising than advancing the public good?
Their frequent claims to the moral high ground as a shield against
accountability are dubious. What sort of moral compass guides people who
turn a blind eye to child prostitution in poor countries, as long as the
children don't make shoes for Nike? It is high time they were brought to
account, and if Johns and the IPA can help to do that, good on them.